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Born: Wednesday 22 December 1926, Montevideo, Uruguay
Right-winger on the team which won the 1950 World Cup in Brazil, Uruguay's Alcides Ghiggia was the scorer of one of the most famous goals in the history of football. It was his strike which sealed that famous triumph for Uruguay, a defining moment in the game in both his own country and in Brazil. He also enjoyed a long club career in Italy, the land of his ancestry, during which team he made several appearances for the Italian national team.
Ghiggia was born into a middle class family in Montevideo on 22 December 1926 and did not go through the extreme poverty that many of his future team-mates had to endure in their childhood. As a teenager he played basketball and football but being relatively short for a footballer, let alone a basketball player, eventually chose football to be his career. Despite his lack of height he was an extremely skilful player, able to dribble the ball at great speed and provide accurate crosses to his team-mates.
Ghiggia's first club was lower league side Sud América, who he joined in 1944, before moving into top flight football two years later with Progreso. His career at the highest level got off to a stuttering start, as Progreso were relegated in the 1946 season and Ghiggia played one more year in the second tier before earning a move to Peñarol in 1948. In his first season Ghiggia was used sparingly, unable to break into a star-studded team which as in many seasons, was locked in a tight championship race with rivals Nacional.
That season was ultimately ruined by a players' strike which caused the league to be abandoned, but in 1949 everything finally came together. Ghiggia became a regular in the team, contributing eight goals from the right wing as Peñarol surged through the league campaign. The team won 16 of their 18 league games and drew the other two, to finish a comfortable six points clear of Nacional at the top and earn Ghiggia the first major honour of his career.
In May of 1950 Ghiggia joined the Uruguay team for the first time for the 'Copa Rio Branco' matches against Brazil. He appeared in all three games and earned his place in the squad for the World Cup to be played in Brazil later that summer, where he would prove to be one of the stars. Ghiggia grabbed his first ever international goal in Uruguay's only group game, scoring the last of his team's eight in an incredibly one sided victory over Bolivia which took them through to the final group stage.
In that final group Ghiggia's goals were instrumental in keeping Uruguay in contention for the title. He opened the scoring in the first game against Spain, which ultimately finished in a 2-2 draw, before getting Uruguay's first equaliser against Sweden in a match were they came from behind twice to win 3-2. That set up a decider against Brazil, which the hosts needed only to draw to become champions but Uruguay had to win. The match, played in front of nearly 200,000 people, would prove to be one of the most famous ever played.
Brazil dominated the first half and took the lead early in the second, but from there Ghiggia took over. Midway through the second half he got possession on the right wing, ran into the penalty area and squared the ball for Juan Schiaffino, who scored the equaliser. Thirteen minutes later, Ghiggia burst into the box again and with Brazilian goalkeeper Moacir Barbosa expecting another cross, found a gap at the near post to put Uruguay 2-1 ahead. There was no way back for Brazil and the match ended in silence, with shocked Brazilian fans in tears. It remains both one of their most famous defeats and Uruguay's most famous win. Ghiggia was the first player to score in every game for a World Cup winning team, a feat since matched only by Jairzinho.
Having lost the title to Nacional in 1950, Ghiggia won another league championship with Peñarol in 1951, an ever present in the team. It seemed that he was set for a long and successful career with the club but in 1952 he received an eight month ban for assaulting a referee who had disallowed a goal. Ghiggia never played for Uruguay again, having won only 12 caps and never added to the four goals he scored in the World Cup. The following year left Peñarol to became one of the first South Americans to move to Italy, when AS Roma beat Juventus to his signature.
He was given a hero's welcome in Rome and went on to become an extremely popular player during his eight years at the club. Ghiggia players more than 200 league games for Roma, scoring 19 goals, but his time at the club was short on major honours. Roma were not able to finish any higher than third in Serie A, a placing they achieved in 1954-55 albeit seven points adrift of champions AC Milan. Just two years after that, there was a narrow brush with relegation when they ended the season only two points clear of the drop zone.
Alongside his 1950 World Cup team-mate Juan Schiaffino, who had also settled in Italy, Ghiggia was called up for the Italian national team for the qualifying round of the 1958 World Cup. He made a total of five appearances, scoring one goal, but defeat to Northern Ireland ended hopes of reaching the finals in Sweden and Ghiggia's international career ended in 1959. His time at Roma ended after a run to the final of the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup in 1961, where Birmingham City were beaten 4-2 on aggregate, but Ghiggia played no part in those matches.
Following that season, Ghiggia moved on to AC Milan where he made four appearances in the club's 1961-62 Serie A winning campaign. Now aged 35, his opportunities in Italy were limited and he decided to return home, joining Danubio ahead of the 1963 season. Ghiggia played six seasons with Danubio, during which time the club finished in the top half of the league only once, achieving fifth place in 1966. He finally retired from playing in 1968, just a matter of days before his 42nd birthday.
In retirement his involvement with football was limited, with just a short spell as manager of his old club Peñarol in 1980. As with many of the members of the 1950 team, the government helped to provide Ghiggia with work and a pension but he still made headlines when financial hardship forced him to sell his World Cup winner's medal. As the only surviving player who appeared in that famous match in 1950, he is still a very recognisable figure in both Uruguay and Brazil, even to people born long afterwards. He has been honoured with a place in the walk of fame at the Maracanã Stadium, as well as FIFA's prestigious Order of Merit.
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- Published on Wednesday, 21 March 2012 17:25